Ladies and Gentlemen,
I can’t tell you how pleased I am that it’s been possible to arrange this. I’m hugely grateful to Jim Mackinnon for making it all possible. It must be five of six years now since we had that small seminar that was an hour long on designing buildings that are sensitive to the area. I remember I had to get up and speak at this seminar and found sitting in front of me a rather furious looking Jim Mackinnon who I hadn’t met yet at that stage. I thought we’re getting absolutely nowhere with this chap at all!
Over the years it’s been wonderful talking to Jim to see perhaps how it can be possible to review and look again at some of the ways in which planning, design, place-making and consulting local communities can perhaps be revised. So this large gathering is something which is enormously encouraging. When you think about it place-making is an incredibly complex art. When people talk glibly about making more sustainable communities, there are very few people around who can actually make that happen because it requires a lot of effort, it requires a lot of learning, it requires a lot of experience. I hate to say this but I will, at the end of the day my Foundation for the Built Environment has been virtually the only one in this country trying to encourage a revised approach.
So often it seems to me that the rule books drawn up in the 1950s and 1960s have become less than appropriate for the situation and the challenges that we now face. Rule books for road engineers in particular so often mean at the end of the day that you only produce another housing estate not an actual community or place.
I believe you’ve been talking about Poundbury. There again we were lucky in finding a local authority that was responsive to the idea of being more flexible in this whole area. We could not have done what has been done by the Duchy of Cornwall without the local authority having that willingness to try this. It’s not easy of course but they did. So at least we have something on the ground where we can take people to examine the principles. So it’s having that flexibility and having a more integrated approach amongst the professions associated with the built environment that I think is of such enormous importance.
You might be interested in one example of a partly Duchy of Cornwall owned development in Somerset. In this case the Duchy of Cornwall only had a very small part of it, the rest was owned by another landowner, a farmer. We got together with this other owner and with a house builder called Bloor Homes. And I’ve never forgotten that the local authority in that area absolutely refused to accept that you could pepper-pot the affordable housing throughout this new development. So they insisted on it being done the old way, all in one place. What has happened is if you go there you’ll find they have nothing but problems, vandalism, anti-social behaviour and goodness knows what else. When I was there the last time they were actually building a mini Berlin wall between the affordable housing area and the rest of the development. It was a classic example of exactly what I’ve been trying to tell them about.
So when it comes to place-making, I can only urge you ladies and gentlemen to think occasionally of the value of seconding somebody from your local authority departments to my Foundation. Jim Mackinnon has been marvellous about this. We’ve had one or two secondees from the Scottish Government. We’ve had a road engineer for the first time. We just want to expose them to working with the kind of projects we’re doing on all the time. Bit by bit it raises their awareness and suddenly new possibilities emerge. So if you ever thought about this, it could possibly be valuable to some you if we’re going to be able to develop the right kind of approach to sustainability. When it comes to trying to push the envelope further, for instance with the Duchy of Cornwall in a new development down at the edge of Newquay, we’ve been taking enormous trouble with trying to look at everything to do with sustainability like a local food plan, a local energy plan and a local transport plan. It’s taken a huge amount of effort and expense but hopefully you can look at the whole picture when it comes to eco-efficiency and sustainability and incorporating renewable energy and so on. This Enquiry by Design approach can be extended to incorporate all this.
So ladies and Gentlemen finally I still think there are one or two basic ‘rules of thumb’ that are worth remembering. First of all, when it comes down to it, ask yourself, ‘Would I live in or next to the big development that we’re going to do? I keep saying to housebuilders and developers, ‘where do you live?’ Would you live next to or in view of the places you build? Not a bad test at the end of the day. And secondly, Will this project be remembered as fondly as the original parts of the town or village that maybe you’re extending? It is perhaps worth remembering occasionally that sustainability is achieved by creating buildings that people will both want to use, and will be able to use efficiently for a long period of time. So at the end of the day beauty actually matters. That is what is really sustainable, attraction, somewhere that people can associate with and feel they have an identity with. That I think is enormously important.
Also I think encouragement should be given to those who are trying to achieve better standards in development. At the moment, the road to building sustainable communities still seems to be full of obstacles, often taking as long, if not longer, than conventional development.
I am so pleased that the Designing Streets policy for Scotland has been published. It really is a significant step in the right direction.
I just want to remind you also that when it comes to all these challenges to implement a sustainable approach to the design and construction of developments, when it came to Poundbury there was huge and widespread opposition and resistance, not from ordinary people but from the professions involved in the built environment. Now the West Dorset District Council actively promotes the approach across the county and was awarded Beacon Status for “Quality of the Built Environment” in 2003.
In fact I just wanted to compliment East Ayrshire council who have been so wonderful with regards to all the efforts we’ve been trying to make in rescuing Dumfries House and the new development on the edge of Cumnock. Again we had a very successful Enquiry by Design there in the local area but of course that Knockroon potential forthcoming development is one of eleven developments that have been awarded exemplar status by the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative. And that I hope will have a profound impact in due course.
So ladies and gentlemen thank you for giving up your precious time in being here today. Obviously an enormous amount depends on you because of the influence you have on how we shape our towns and cities. I do look forward to seeing the results of all these discussions in due course.